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Administrative Tribunals (Updated 12/09/11)

Tribunals have been defined as "Bodies outside the hierarchy of the courts with administrative or
judicial functions" (Curzon, Dictionary of Law, 1994, p387).
Administrative tribunals resolve disputes between, for example, the citizen and an officer of a
government agency or between individuals in an area of law in which the government has
legislated the conduct of their relations.
Administrative tribunals have been established by statute, in the main, to resolve:
* disputes between a private citizen and a central government department, such as claims to
social security benefits;
* disputes which require the application of specialised knowledge or expertise, such as the
assessment of compensation following the compulsory purchase of land; and
* other disputes which by their nature or quantity are considered unsuitable for the ordinary
courts, such as fixing a fair rent for premises or immigration appeals.
The main reasons for the creation of administrative tribunals may be identified as:
* the relief of congestion in the ordinary courts of law (the courts could not cope with the case-
load that is now borne by social security tribunals, employment tribunals and the like);
* the provision of a speedier and cheaper procedure than that afforded by the ordinary courts
(tribunals avoid the formality of the ordinary courts); and
* the desire to have specific issues dealt with by persons with an intimate knowledge and
experience of the problems involved (which a court with a wide general jurisdiction might not
Note: a distinction must be drawn between administrative tribunals and domestic tribunals.
Domestic tribunals are bodies appointed within an organisation to decide disputes, eg, the
Disciplinary Committee of the General Medical Council, which controls the professional activities
of doctors.

Administrative tribunals are sets of tribunals which adjudicate on specialist civil disputes outside
of the court system. Darbyshire has reported (2008) that there are over 130 such bodies in the
UK covering a vast array of areas. Until recently each tribunal was separate and in 1996 the list of
administrative tribunals included: agricultural land tribunals, child support appeal tribunals, the
Civil Aviation Authority and the Director General of Fair Trading in their licensing functions,
criminal injuries adjudicators, the Data Protection Registrar, education appeal committees,
immigration adjudicators and the Immigration Appeal tribunal, industrial tribunals (renamed
employment tribunals), the two Lands Tribunals, mental health review tribunals, the
Comptroller-General of Patents, war pensions appeal tribunals, rent assessment committees,
social security appeal tribunals and the Social Security Commissioners, disability and medical
appeal tribunals, the general and special commissioners of income tax, traffic commissioners,
valuation and community charge tribunals, and VAT tribunals.
However, these tribunals have now been incorporated into the unified Tribunals System which
includes all administrative tribunals with the exceptions of Patent Office tribunals and the
Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

(a) Some tribunals may be composed of a lawyer alone, but commonly there will be a lawyer
'chair' (called a 'tribunal judge') and two lay people who may be drawn from the relevant
industry. The Judicial Appointments Commission is now in control of the selection process.
(b) Appointments are usually made for a fixed period of years.
(c) Many tribunals, like the Lands Tribunal and the commissioners of income tax, exercise
strictly judicial functions. Some, like the Civil Aviation Authority, base their decisions on wider
aspects of policy, exercising regulatory functions in a judicial form.
(d) In 1997, legal aid was available before the Lands Tribunal, the Commons Commissioners and
the Employment Appeal Tribunal; legal assistance by way of representation was available before
mental health review tribunals and for certain proceedings before the Parole Board. Legal advice
and assistance without representation can be obtained in connection with all tribunal
proceedings (Part III, Legal Aid Act 1988).
(e) In general, tribunals are not bound by the rules of evidence observed in courts and could not
reach decisions simply and speedily if they were. Some tribunals follow procedures that are
essentially inquisitorial rather than adversary, but minimum standards of evidence and proof
must be observed by tribunals if justice is to be done.
(f) The legal profession has no monopoly of the right to represent those appearing before
tribunals. This fact alone makes tribunals more accessible to the public than the courts, since an
individual's case may often be presented effectively by a trade union official, an accountant, a
surveyor, a doctor, a social worker or a friend.

The Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council
This body supervises tribunals and replaces the Council on Tribunals. Its aim is to aid in making
tribunals fair and accessible by keeping them under review. The Council reports directly to the
Ministry of Justice. Currently (2011), a consultation process is underway which may result in the
abolition of the Council.

Legatt Review of Tribunals
In 2000 the Legatt Review was set up to look into the operation of administrative tribunals. The
Review found that each tribunal had its own processes and standards and were not accessible to
users. It also raised concerns about the level of independence of tribunals and the long delays
which users faced in having their dispute resolved by the tribunals.
The Legatt Review recommended that a new independent tribunal service be set up so that the
relevant sponsoring government departments could no longer be seen as influencing the
individual tribunals and that a composite two-tier tribunal structure should be adopted.

Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007
Ultimately, the Legatt Review Recommendations were adopted by the government in the form of
the Tribunals, Courts & Enforcement Act 2007 (TCEA 2007).
The TCEA 2007 created a new structure for tribunals. There are now two tribunals in the unified
tribunals system with generic rules of procedure, a system of appeals and one Senior Precedent.
The two tribunals are the First-tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal. All the previously existing
tribunals (with the exception of Patent Office tribunals and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal)
are now contained within the unified tribunals. It should be noted that the Employment Tribunal
and the Employment Appeal Tribunal are not within the unified structure, however these are not
in essence administrative tribunals but deal mainly with private issues.
The First-tier Tribunal is a fact-finding tribunal which hears appeals directly from decision
makers. Thus, if an individual is unsatisfied by a decision made eg by a Secretary of State he may
appeal to the First-tier Tribunal. The First-tier Tribunal is divided into Chambers, with each
Chamber having its own President and its own area of law eg social security. This separation into
legal-area Chambers allows the system to continue to provide specialist judges with relevant
experience to the area in question in each individual case. The Upper Tribunal is mainly an
appellate tribunal to hear appeals from the First-Tier tribunal. However, it also has primary
jurisdiction to hear certain matters including finance and tax matters.

Tribunal Procedure
Section 22 TCEA 2007 requires that Tribunal Procedure Rules are made by the Tribunal
Procedure Committee and states that the objectives of the rules are that: justice is done; the
tribunal system is accessible and fair; proceedings are handled quickly and efficiently; the rules
are both simple and simply expressed; and that the rules where appropriate confer on members
of the relevant Tribunal responsibility for ensuring that the proceedings are handled quickly and
There are variations in procedure depending on the area of law involved. However, each set of
procedures must follow the basic objectives listed above. Schedule 5 TCEA 2007 provides the
rules relating to the tribunal procedures. Part 1 sets out that the procedural rules may contain
certain provisions relating eg to time limits, whether hearings should be in public or private,
representation, evidence, witnesses and notice.
The Tribunal Procedure Committee is in charge of creating the individual sets of procedural
rules. So far several sets of procedural rules have been devised including those relating to social
entitlement, health and education. Generally, the procedural rules do not require leave for the
commencement of proceedings, but normally the applicant should send an application within 28
days of the decision in dispute. The respondent must then state the grounds, if any, on which the
application will be opposed. A hearing will then normally take place, with the general rule being
that these are in public except in relation to mental health issues and some educational issues.
Each party may have a representative, who may be legally qualified or not, and the tribunal has
wide powers to control the way in which evidence is given and the amount of evidence which may
be presented. Once a decision has been reached the Tribunal must provide written reasons for it
and notification of any rights of review or appeal.

The First-tier Tribunal is capable of reviewing its own decisions on application by a dissatisfied
party. Decisions reached by the First-tier Tribunal may be appealed to the Upper Tribunal.
Beyond this, the next point of appeal is the Court of Appeal, rather than the High Court as was
previously the case.

The advantage of a tribunal is that it is:
(a) quick with no long waits for the case to be heard and it is dealt with speedily;
(b) cheap, as no fees are charged;
(c) staffed by experts who specialise in particular areas;
(d) characterised by an informal atmosphere and procedure;
(e) allowed not to follow its own precedents, although tribunals do have to follow court
The disadvantages of tribunals are that:
(a) some are becoming more formal;
(b) they are not always independent of the Government, although the Independent Tribunal
Service now recommends possible chairmen to the Lord Chancellor;
(c) some tribunals act in private;
(d) they do not always give reasons, although under s10 of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1992,
tribunals listed in the Act must give a written or oral statement of reasons, if asked to;
(e) legal aid is not generally available, except for the Lands Tribunal, the Employment Appeal
Tribunal and the Mental Health Review Tribunal;
(f) there is no general right of appeal to the courts: it all depends on the particular statute
creating the tribunal. The 1992 Act gives a right of appeal on a point of law to the High Court
from specified tribunals.

According to T. Blakemore and B. Greene, Law for Legal Executives, 1996, p95:
They do a useful job in taking some types of work away from the courts and dealing with
specialised matters, less valuable claims and matters involving the exercise of a discretion. It has
been estimated that they deal with over one million cases a year (Partington, Martin, 'The Future
of Tribunals', Legal Action, May 1993, p9). Problems remain over lack of standard rights, like the
right of appeal, and procedures. In many instances they make important decisions affecting
people's livelihoods and quality of life. The Council on Tribunals has begun to investigate the use
of precedent, the establishment of a standard complaints procedure. Training for tribunal
members is provided in association with the Tribunals Committee of the Judicial Studies Board.
The Council on Tribunals has proposed setting up a Tribunals Association as a representative
body for all tribunals. Its influence is hampered through lack of funds and having part time
members. Some tribunals, for example the Lands Tribunal, have a backlog as large as the
ordinary courts. Following the Genn Report ('Effectiveness of Representation at Tribunals') the
Council on Tribunals believes that legal aid should be available at tribunal hearings.
Although the Woolf Report pays little attention to tribunals, some see them as offering an
alternative to the courts in certain cases and a way of solving the problems of access to the civil
justice system identified by the Woolf Report, as tribunals are cheap, informal and quicker than
the ordinary courts (Zuckerman and Cranston (eds), Reform of Civil Procedure; Roy Sainsbury
and Hazel Genn, Access to Justice: Lessons from Tribunals, Clarendon Press, 1995).
(adapted from T. Blakemore and B. Greene, Law for Legal Executives, 1996, p101.)